Fat Consumption. The realities, the effects, and the sweet spot for intake.

In the 1980’s and 90’s fat was vilified.

We made processed foods with zero fat, skimmed the fats out of dairy, and told people to stop eating eggs. Nutrition science said fat made us fat and contributed to heart disease.

Fast forward 30 years and we now have a trending diet that is comprised of no less than 50% fat. You can eat bacon, and egg yolks, and mayonnaise. And people lose massive amounts of weight on this diet, so it must be good, right?

Well yes, and no. Because just like with carbs we can’t decide to take one macronutrient and decide that its good OR evil. We are holistic creatures. Our bodies work as a whole system.

Deciding that one piece of the puzzle is the master piece is like trying to decipher which part of the ecosystem is the most crucial. It doesn’t work like that.

If you change the flow of the stream through the forest it effects every part of the forest.

Carbs eaten at the wrong time for the wrong reasons can make you fat. But eaten at the right times for the right reasons and you fuel your body to do anything you want. The same goes for dietary fat.

Fat is needed to help build the walls of each and every one of the cells in our bodies- this is kind of crucial. It’s used to help make hormones (the chemical messengers our bodies use to send signals on when things should start and stop, amongst other jobs).

Fat also helps keep our skin moisturized and stretchy, as well as protect our organs as they bounce against each other. Lastly, fat is an amazing fuel source to keep us going when our primary fuel source carbohydrates aren’t enough (like when you want to exercise for longer than 30 to 45 minutes).

When we eat fat, our bodies convert it to the kind of fat it needs for the task at hand.

However, if we eat too much, it’s the easiest for our bodies to convert to stored energy (this is why we used to think eating fat MADE us fat- because it kind of does).  

Okay, at this point have I made things more or less complicated? I gather a bit of both.

But this goes back to why we really can’t say “don’t eat fat” or “don’t eat carbs” or whatever. Because there’s a sweet spot for each and every one of us. And this sweet spot changes SO much throughout our lives. It changes based on our ages, genders, activity levels (even what KIND of activity you do).

Now, let’s talk about how you figure out what that sweet spot is for you. As a GENERAL rule, women will benefit from eating around 60 to 80 grams of fat per day. Men generally do better on a higher fat diet and do well at around 80 to 100 grams a day.

Why would you want to go higher or lower than this? If you’re a sedentary person I would give you higher fat because you aren’t using as many carbohydrates and I want you eating less food overall.

Fat is extremely satisfying because it packs the most energy per gram- 9 calories per gram versus protein and carbs at 4 calories/gram, and it takes a while for it to digest.

In addition, fat slowly raises your blood sugar, whereas carbs will make your blood sugar spike faster (and then sometimes it drops back down fast, making you hungry again).

I might have someone go lower than this if I am cutting their calories quite a bit or if I’ve upped their carbs or protein and don’t want them eating too much overall.

If you’re someone who’s trying to lose a lot of weight, I might put you on a higher fat diet to make your body use your own fat supplies faster. Our bodies prefer carbs and almost always use them first. If there aren’t a lot available then it will have to turn to using fat as fuel faster. BUT women tend to do better on higher carb diets EVEN when they’re trying to lose weight, whereas men tend to do better on lower carb diets.

Lastly, if you’re consuming more fat than your body needs its converted very easily to body fat. When our bodies break down food it requires energy, this is called the thermogenic effect of food.

Carbs and protein require a fair amount of energy but not so much with fat. AND if you overeat protein our bodies tend to store it as lean muscle. So, unless you’re on a low carb diet I would rather you NOT overeat on fat.

Fat is also commonly the easiest thing TO overeat, because of its dense nature. 100 calories of fat is a tbsp of olive oil. 100 calories of carbs is almost a 1/2 cup of rice.

Okay- so bullet points:

  • You need fat for healthy cells, hormones, healthy hair, and to protect your organs, as well as help you maintain energy levels when carbs aren’t available.
  • Women generally need 60 to 80 grams of fat per day. Men generally need 80 to 100 grams per day.
  • If you’re more active you would probably benefit from more carbs less fat, and if you’re less active you probably should be having moderate fat and lower carbs.
  • Fat is the easiest to overeat because of how dense it is, and it’s the easiest for our bodies to convert to body fat.

This is all in a nutshell to say- be mindful of how much fat you are eating in a day. Know WHY you are eating what you’re eating, and know that each and every macronutrient (carbs, fats, and proteins) work in synergy with each other. We should be getting all of them in specific amounts based on who we are and how we are living our lives!

Need help with your nutrition? It’s what I do! Email me coaching@shawnanorton.com and let’s get started!

My mission is to help everyone I can become the healthiest, strongest versions of themselves. I am a Crossfit coach, athlete, Health and Nutrition coach, Movement Rehab Specialist, and a grad student completing my masters in Kinesiology with a focus on integrative wellness.

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